I’m going to get a little real and raw in this post, and I hope readers and potential clients can appreciate my honesty and vulnerability here as I completely detail my process for backing up photos. But first, why it matter that I am doing that.
Wedding photographers have an enormous responsibility to their clients. A wedding day cannot be redone in the way that a family session can be, and the pressure for us to get it right and deliver is intense. We are hired to capture one of the most pivotal moments of people’s lives and there are no do-overs if we miss a moment that is significant. So you can imagine that it really stresses me out (and makes me pretty irate) when I read stories from people in my professionals groups about how they or someone they know have lost the images from a wedding because of mishandling a client’s data or not properly backing up the photos and they want to know what they should do next. And these posts are becoming more and more frequent in my professionals groups, which is why I wanted to write this blog post.
I hope to never be in a situation where I’ve lost a client’s data. I do a lot to protect myself from such a situation (more on that in a moment), but technical errors happen and it’s possible that in my extensive chain of precautions I could have a complete and total failure. It’s a pretty remote possibility, but it exists and terrifies me. This remote possibility truly exists for every photographer, too. But a true professional takes a variety of precautionary steps to help prevent data loss and preserve these memories on behalf of our clients (and for the protection of our business and reputation).
Every professional has a method that’s their own that works for them. Some people double back up, some people triple back up. Some will mobile back up, while others wait until they’re back to the office. There’s no official way to protect data that’s industry standard, though there are some steps that are pretty common among wedding professionals. Below, I’m going to outline my method for protecting clients’ memories and backing up photos, but the real take-away from my post is this: When you are interviewing your wedding photographer, don’t be afraid to ask them how they will protect your data. Any professional photographer will be confident in explaining their process to you and this is quickly becoming a way that distinguishes a trained professional from an amateur who has jumped into business unprepared.
When I photograph a wedding, I am backing up photos in the following ways:
1. The cameras I use have two memory card slots that write identical data to each card simultaneously. So as soon as I click the shutter I have two copies of the photo on two separate memory cards, giving me extra protection against memory card corruption and failure. I have had a memory card (even a brand new never before used card) fail on me during a wedding on four separate occasions now. Those failures were mitigated and I was able to fully deliver for my clients because of dual-slot shooting.
2. I do not go to sleep on a wedding night until I’ve copied all the images to my external hard drive (EHD). There are a few things happening in this step. The images are being copied, not moved, so now they are in two places: the card and my EHD. Because they are going onto my EHD, they are also being protected from my computer crashing and losing them on that device.
3. One copy of the memory cards I used gets filed in my handy memory card box until after the client’s gallery has been delivered. This ensures that I have the files direct from my camera in case anything happens to the copies I put on my EHD. The memory card won’t be used and rewritten until after gallery delivery.
4. I work off of OneDrive, which is cloud-based. My RAW files from my camera go on the EHD, but all of my work for my editing catalog and final JPEGs are on my OneDrive, which is the cloud. Again, not tied to a specific device and files are protected from the failure of said device.
5. My editing catalog creates a “Smart Preview” which is its own ghost version of the file that I could use to recreate a small, print-suitable JPEG in the event that I totally lose access to all of my original RAW files. These previews are created the day following the wedding and would be my last line of being able to deliver an image to a client in the event of near-total technical failure of my backups. And because my catalog is on the cloud-based OneDrive, I can access it from pretty much anywhere.
6. I subscribe to Crashplan Pro, which is a cloud-based back-up system for professionals. This service is constantly scanning my EHD and my OneDrive folders for new files to back up, so as soon as a wedding is copied over to the EHD, Crashplan starts uploading those RAW images to their cloud. And as soon as I export the final edited JPEGs from my editing software to my OneDrive, Crashplan is backing those up, too. Full disclosure: I do delete unused RAWs from both my EHD and the corresponding Crashplan folder 3 years after the year of the wedding, but I always maintain the RAWs for images I delivered.
7. The gallery system I use is also a 4-year backup for the final images. Because I use the gallery delivery system I do, client galleries are active for 4 years and serve as a third back-up for clients’ final JPEG images. Clients can also choose to subscribe to an annual cloud storage service to extend the life of their gallery beyond that 4 year mark.
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